Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #28
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: May 9, 1980
Sub-Genre: Eighties Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $59,754,601
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Producer: Sean S. Cunningham
Screenplay: Victor Miller
Special Effects: Tom Savini
Cinematography: Barry Abrams
Score: Harry Manfredini
Editing: Bill Freda
Distributor: Paramount Pictures (US) Warner Bros.(International)
Stars: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Mark Nelson, Peter Brouwer, Walt Gorney and Ari Lehman as Jason Voorhees
Suggested Audio Candy
Harry Manfredini “Friday The 13th”
If I were to ask a hundred horror devotees to name the first person that entered their head when I mention the term slasher, I would hedge a bet that that fifty percent would reply Jason Voorhees, forty would likely say Michael Myers and the remaining ten percent would probably say some obscure name simply to be contentious or appear well versed. Jason has stalked, slashed, sliced, diced and generally eviscerated innumerable teenagers since before the arrival of my very first pubic hair (many don’t recall that moment but I had to wait a while for my second). He has become a horror institution, the first of a new breed cheered on by crowds and emulated by so many. That said, he didn’t even get to have his kicks until Part 2 and didn’t pick up his hockey mask until midway through Part 3. The original played out more like a whodunnit as it hadn’t revealed its hand at this point; therefore the element of mystery was unfettered.
“I think the best kill we came up with was the spear in the back. It was the epitome of a horror film. Pretty sick shit” Tom Murphy
Another myth burst before on numerous occasions is that Friday The 13th started it all. Not even close. While it undoubtedly kickstarted the American slasher revolution, Mario Bava had already laid the tracks way back in 1971 with A Bay of Blood and any self-respecting horror buff will already be casting their mind back to the double-spearing from Part 2 which shamelessly stole from his original template. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery although I’m not convinced that Bava would have taken this blatant riff as a compliment.
Horror has long been a successful launch-pad for many a Hollywood icon. Brad Pitt got to bust out his gym shorts in Rospo Pallenberg’s Cutting Class, Jennifer Aniston put a turn for Mark Jones’ Leprechaun, George Clooney wasn’t nominated by Oscar for his small role in John De Bello’s so-bad-it’s-good Z-movie Return of the Killer Tomatoes and later returned to the fray for Bill Froehlich’s limp Return To Horror High, Renee Zellweger possibly won’t appreciate me noting her turn in the abomination that is Kim Henkel’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (Matthew McConaughay also appeared alongside her but fared somewhat better), Daryl Hannah cut her teeth on Andrew Davis’ underrated backwoods slasher The Final Terror, and Holly Hunter grabbed a solitary line of dialogue for Tony Maylam’s The Burning.
Which brings us rather tidily to Kevin Bacon. Long before this footloose individual taught Christopher Penn to dance, he was just another aspiring young actor looking to make a name for himself however he could. I’ve long since been a fan of Bacon’s work and also the manner in which he tackles unfashionable and controversial roles such as he did for Nicole Kassell’s The Woodsman. As Jack in Friday The 13th, he is provided the chance to just kick back and be a regular hormonal teenager. That means doing the things that teenagers do and, of course, dying the way that teenagers die.
Along with his randy pals Ned (Mark Nelson), Bill (Harry Crosby), Marcie (Jeannine Taylor), Alice (Adrienne King), Brenda (Laurie Bartram) and Annie (Robbi Morgan), he is the first to taste the razor-sharp edge of Jason’s machete and before the murderous momma’s boy even gets to lay his hands on it. His embittered guardian Pamela is the one bearing the grudge here although, to be one hundred percent accurate, it’s more a case of hunting knife, ax and a quiver of arrows. That’s right, it turns out Mrs. Voorhees was taking an archery course while her beautiful boy was forgetting how to swim. And yet she still blames the camp’s counselors for his unfortunate demise.
I won’t bore you all with plot as you may be somewhat familiar by this point. What is important here are the kills. The thrill for casual audiences that the Final Destination franchise provides, with each set piece more grisly than the last, owes it all to Jason. This is where Cunningham’s film truly innovated. It unified people, what’s more, it was the first film to make it cool to root for the killer. Let’s face facts, every last one of them ultimately deserve the shallow graves provided. It’s questionable whether any of them are of a legal drinking age and all that promiscuous sex means they are crying out to contract that other iconic eighties killer so it’s hard to argue that they didn’t have it coming. Plus they have names like Bill and Ned. Guilty as charged see.
Actually the teens in the first Friday the 13th are quite an affable bunch and far less hateful than the kids from subsequent entries but that doesn’t stop us crying out for their termination. When that transpires, the dispatches are visual to the hilt and Savini does a bang-up job with the prosthetics and blood pouches. Meanwhile, Betsy Palmer cuts an inexplicably eerie figure as Mrs. Voorhees, with teeth like a row of headstones and peepers like prison search lights. Anyone wondering where Jason inherited his mean-spirited gene need only take one look at Pamela to realize that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.
The intention of Friday the 13th (original working title A Long Night at Camp Blood) was originally to explore our dislocated society and not to desensitize crowds to violence or simply decimate teens for being sexually active as many critics inevitably misinterpreted. Whatever his thinking, the wheels were now set firmly in motion and American slasher benefited greatly from Cunningham’s opening slice of slasher goodness. One thing is in absolutely no doubt whatsoever: those kids really should have listened to the well-informed rants of Crazy Ralph.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For The Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Savini + teens = bloody murder and there are some tremendous executions in Friday The 13th to feast your eyes on. Over the years, the franchise became known for its increasingly inventive kills, but countless sequels rarely matched the majesty of the Sultan of Splatter’s fine work here and his delightful throat slice is the work of a true SFX genius. The way Annie’s wound opens up and its white cavity becomes awash with gushing deep red grue still excites my soul to this day. Indeed, I could watch it a thousand times over and still marvel at its intricate brilliance. Just as magnanimous is Jack’s skewering from beneath the bunk and, once again, time has been incredibly kind with this effect. Elsewhere, there is decapitation, spitting headache courtesy of plummeting ax, archery gone awry, and the customary stabbings to make up numbers. As for the skin quota, we would have to wait until the inevitable sequel for shameless nudity, although the sight of Marcie prancing about in her skimpy underwear alone is enough to provoke a knee tremble or two.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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